Teaching Number Sense

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As adults, we use number sense every day: to estimate the cost of a basket of groceries, to measure for new bookshelves, or to calculate how long it will probably take to get to the beach. Numbers are a big part of our daily lives. And yet, the mystique around formally teaching number sense has only grown. Building number sense can be seen as serious work, deserving of many hours of instructional time rather than a short, daily practice. Instead, take advantage of those brief moments when students can validate and correct their understanding of how numbers work.

Here are three five-minute number sense activities you can do with your students over and over again to further their mathematical thinking.


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For our youngest students, imagining a number bigger than seems almost impossible. With time, they will become aware that there are numbers beyond what they know.

Teaching Number Sense in Preschool - The Ultimate Guide

Counting and skip-counting are great ways for students to learn about patterns that exist in our number system. They also provide many opportunities for teachers to identify and correct any misconceptions students may have. There is no right way to skip-count: Students can get in a circle and throw a ball around while counting or work in pairs to take turns writing one number after another in the sequence.

Just make sure students are frequently writing, reading, and saying numbers, with a focus on counting up and down by 1s with younger students and skip-counting by different amounts with older students.

Varying modalities increases retention and also makes everything more fun. Depending on age and skill-level, increase the level of difficulty of the task by changing the number students start counting from.

Try These 5-Minute Activities to Build Elementary Number Sense

With second graders, I like to have them count by ones in writing, starting with For third graders, I have them count up by 10s, starting at a larger number, like As students begin working with larger numbers, they must wrap their brains around the idea that the value of a digit changes based on which place it is in. For example, the 3 in has a different value than the 3 in Reinforce place value and other concepts by asking students to arrange digits into the greatest or smallest number possible.


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First, provide students with a set of digits, increasing the number of digits over time. Number sense begins very early and must be a focus of primary math. This is the solid foundation in math that all kids need.

In a study by Jordan, Locuniak, Ramineni and Kaplan entitled Predicting First-Grade Math Achievement from Developmental Number Sense Trajectories , it was shown that "early sense of numbers sic is a reliable and powerful predictor of math achievement at the end of first grade. Having a sense of how numbers work is a very broad topic that covers all numerical thinking.

At it's core, it is making sense of math concepts and mathematical reasoning. Knowing the why of how numbers work is of utmost importance, and children should not be shown the how until they understand the "why. Inquiry-based approaches such as math dice games to teaching children mathematics should be utilized as primary teaching methods in the early grades. This is not to say that explicit teaching of sense of numbers skills is not essential, especially for those students from low socio-economic status. We absolutely need to do this.

It is saying that teachers should provide multiple opportunities for students to experience numbers and make connections before putting the pencil to paper.

Strategies for Preschool and Kindergarten Kids

I've written some really fun activities, ideas and a free ebook! Please comment on this page and share it, then go check out some Halloween number sense activities. Carefully consider your objectives and the type of learners in your room when choosing a math game to include. NCTM also suggests you consider:. Link school math to real-world experiences Present students with situations that relate to both inside and outside classroom experiences. Students need to recognize that numbers are useful for solving problems.

Teaching Mathematical Concepts Section Links

Model different computing methods Focus on what methods make sense for different situations. There is no one right way to compute. We need our students to be flexible thinkers.